Building the Foundation for Stronger Teams – By Barb Pierce

January 27th, 2013

Top performing teams are built on the foundation of rapport, safety and trust. When these factors are present and blended with a clear vision, a strong organization and open communications the results are much more than the sum of the parts.


Rapport must be present to engage in meaningful conversations. Without it, you touch only on the surface issues. When rapport is present, all parties in the discussion are more relaxed and the conversation is more honest and truthful. Rapport is not just about being friendly and interested in the other person. Rather it requires connection on all levels: physical, mental, emotional and energetic.

At the physical level, this means being in sync with the person that you are communicating with; however, the connection must be natural and authentic. Being in sync does not mean that you copy the other person’s body language; it means that you match it in a way that is authentic for you. For example, if the other person is sitting, you also sit (if appropriate). If the other person is sitting up straight, you sit up straight – without exaggerating.

At the mental level, you must demonstrate understanding and respect of the other person’s model of the world—free of judgment. You don’t have to like or agree with the other person, but you have to at least understand and acknowledge it. For example, if an employee says that punctuality is important to her and you are always late, she will not believe that you understand or respect what is important to her.

At the emotional level, acknowledge and be empathetic to how the other person is feeling – even if you don’t agree. This does not mean that you need to get caught up in the other person’s story, but rather that you acknowledge that the person is feeling sad or anxious or some other emotion.

At the energetic level, do your best match the energy of the person you are speaking with. If she is speaking very quickly because of an emergency and you are speaking very slowly, she may become impatient and infer that you don’t understand the urgency of her message.

Sensory Acuity

Rapport is enhanced when you are fully present and responsive to your employee’s words, body language and feelings.

When you communicate with others, 55% of the meaning of your message is conveyed through your body language, 38% through your voice tonality and only 7% through the actual words that you choose. (Inference of Attitudes from Nonverbal Communication in Two Channels, Mehrabian and Ferris) This means that you communicate messages all of the time, even when you are not speaking.

When speaking with your employees or co-workers, listen for the words but also notice changes in body language, tone of voice, cadence of speech and other subtle signs that demonstrate how the recipient is really communicating. If you pay careful attention, you can notice energy and emotional shifts in others. These are cues that open the door to deepening rapport and getting to know your employees or co-workers better.

Body Language

A person’s body language reveals a great deal about how she reacts to a situation. Body language includes both facial expressions as well as other body movements such as gestures and posture. When looking at the recipient’s face, you can gather a wealth of information from her eyes (distant or focused), skin tone (face is relaxed or tense) and skin colour (flushed, pale or the person’s normal colour).

Other body movements to look for include: speed of movement (quick or slow), conscious or unconscious movements (toe or finger tapping, fidgeting), crossing of arms, leaning forward or backwards, proximity of the person (crowding you or too far away).

With practice you can become skilled at reading body language. This gives you valuable feedback when you present and receive information. It allows you to make adjustments in your presentations ‘real time’. For example, if the recipient of your message looks confused, you can ask if she needs clarification. If she looks bored, you can change your tack to re-engage her. If you are on the receiving end of a message, you can effectively evaluate if the message being passed is sincere.

Voice Tonality

Voice tonality includes pitch (low or high), tempo (speed), voice quality (clear or muffled/slurred) and volume. The same message can convey a very different meaning with different voice tonalities. For example, if you say ‘hello’ in a crisp, clear, pleasant voice, you convey a different meaning than if you use a lower pitched ‘hello’ that is drawn out (it might appear as though you are not paying attention.)


When communicating a message, ensure that your choice of words is appropriate to the education and background of the person that you are speaking with.


A safe environment is key to developing trust and rapport. A few basic principles include:

• Confidentiality: If you are having a private conversation, keep it private.
• Neutral Territory: If you are meeting with an employee, consider booking a conference room or space other than your office.
• Focus on Strengths: Find out your employee’s strengths and help her to develop them – don’t just focus on developing weaknesses. Celebrate successes on a regular basis and let your employees know what they are doing well.
• Disciplinary Discussions: Unless there is a safety issue, never discipline an employee publicly. When disciplinary conversations are conducted in private, always treat your employee with respect.


Be who you say you are and act with integrity and honesty in all areas of your life. Your reputation precedes you.

Listen More Than You Speak

Once rapport, safety and trust are established, the best way connect with and understand your employees is to use purposeful, open-ended questions, and then listen more than you speak. Once safety, trust and rapport are established, if you remain fully present during your conversations and pay close attention to what the recipients of your message are saying, you will connect with them at a more meaningful level. By asking questions and listening without judgment, you will notice that people speak to you more honestly and openly and it becomes easier to understand what motivates them. If you practice sensory acuity, you will be able to get back on track more quickly when you miscommunicate your message.


Building rapport, safety and trust are the foundation of successful relationships. When these are present you will notice that you connect more deeply and meaningfully than before.
By paying attention and adapting to the intentional or unintentional feedback to your messages you will be amazed at how much more effective you are in your communications. People will notice that you are interested in them and will want to spend time with you. Developing good communications skills helps you to give better presentations, have more meaningful discussions with others and gives you more confidence in social situations.

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